The winter games of discontent

By Joe Mellor, In house Reporter

Gay rights and Money at Sochi

Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has just taken part in a ceremony in Moscow to launch the torch relay for next year’s winter Olympics in Sochi.

But even a wild card comeback from Eddie the Eagle wouldn’t lift the gloom surrounding the great sporting event.

The Olympic flame will cover more ground than ever before. It will travel to the North Pole on an atomic-powered icebreaker, ascend Europe’s highest peak, Mt Elbrus, and be taken to the depths of Lake Baikal in Siberia.

However, it appears that travelling the length and depth of the largest country in the world is not enough.

This torch is going into outer space and will be taken on a spacewalk at the International Space Station. But, when the torch crashes back through the earth’s atmosphere the same problems will remain.

The run-up to the games has also been marred by controversy over a new Russian law that restricts the spread of information about homosexuality.

Gay speed skater, Blake Skjellerup, has said he will wear a rainbow pin during the competition; a brave man, he will literally be skating on thin ice.

There are also allegations that authorities have rounded up migrant workers and placed them in “arbitrary and inhuman conditions.”

Human Right Watch said:

“These are the workers who helped build the games venues in Sochi.”

Imagine Sochi as the Costa Del Sol on ice; full of dubious businessmen, gangsters and Baltic WAG’s – nice, but not for the whole afternoon.

Mr Putin said the Olympic torch relay would show-off Russia “the way that it is and the way we love it.”

Well, with an estimated price tag of $51 billion (£32 billion), the February 2014 games will be the most expensive in history. The original estimate in 2007 was $12 billion and critics say more than half of that money may have gone towards embezzlement and kickbacks.

Meanwhile, companies linked to members of Mr Putin’s inner circle appear to have profited handsomely. Notably, firms belonging to Putin’s childhood friend, Arkady Rotenberg, have won contracts worth $7.4 billion

That is definitely the way Putin loves it.

And if that isn’t enough, Russia plans to charge some Greenpeace activists with piracy, with potential 15 year jail terms, after a protest against oil exploration in Siberia.

The environmental campaigners are without doubt a nuisance to a number of states and businesses, but they can hardly be heralded as “greenbeards,” of the high seas.

To cap it all off, Russian investigative journalists, Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, claim Russia’s FSB security service plans to intercept the phone and data traffic of all athletes and spectators.

“Their monitoring service will detect sensitive words, and people found using such words can be tracked further,” Soldatov said. Sadly, this kind of activity has come to be expected by this paranoid state.

So, when the Olympic torch leaves the earth’s atmosphere, remember that in space nobody can hear you scream, but in Sochi next year they will be able to see you stream.

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